NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - If India and other nations across the world want economic growth, gender equality must be central to all development policies, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said on Wednesday.
Kim, on a two-day visit to India, said the empowerment of girls and women across the world had become a "top issue" and the Bank was committed to supporting programmes which helped to promote gender equality.
"Unless you put women at the centre of the development process, unless you move aggressively towards gender equality, it's not just that you are doing the wrong thing in terms of human rights, you are doing the wrong thing economically," Kim told a news conference at the end of his visit.
"If you want to grow economically, you've got to focus on gender equality. We couldn't be more committed to this issue and we know this is an issue that is very important to India."
India is the World Bank's largest client, receiving $3 billion to $5 billion annually in loans and grants to fund development projects in a country where one-third of the population -- around 400 million people -- lives on less than $1.25 a day.
Experts say gender equality makes economic sense and improving the status of women and girls can enhance productivity, improve development outcomes and make key institutions more representative.
Women represent about 40 percent of the global labour force, 43 percent of the world's agricultural workers and more than half the world's university students, yet gender disparities persist in many areas, according to a World Development Report last year.
Worldwide, females are more likely to die than males, their enrolment in primary and secondary schools is much lower, they have less access to jobs and less say and control in their own homes. Women are also under-represented in the political arena.
Indian females face many challenges, from cultural practices such as foeticide, child marriage, dowry and honour killings to discrimination in health, education and the workplace.
Crimes such as rape, domestic violence and trafficking are widespread and while there are around one million female politicians in village councils, women hold only 11 percent of the seats in India's lower and upper houses of parliament.
In his budget speech last month, Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said that addressing the plight of women was a key priority for the government, and announced plans to create a women-only bank and a $186 million fund to boost their security and empowerment.
(TrustLaw is a global news service covering human rights and governance issues and run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters)